Product teams need these 5 priorities to succeed

By Jodie Hopperton

INMA

Los Angeles, California, United States

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You may be used to opinions coming out at year end or predictions for the news industry looking ahead. But I like to do things differently, so here are a few of my takes of what we need to do to succeed. 

1. If we do not crack personalisation — including topics, formats, sequencing, and services — someone else is going to do it first and/or better

]Netflix recently announced they lost 970k subscribers. That was seen as good news because it was less than the 2 million predicted, and it’s expected to put 1 million back on next quarter. It’s well under 1% of their audience, which is currently over 221.64 million.

What news organisation can point to anything like these numbers? Yet we entertain, inform, and educate. We have enough content to engage people, we just need to figure out how to get the right thing in front of the right person at the right time so they come to use for the latest news, a rounded viewpoint, for some levity, to be entertained, and all the other things we hear about in the discovery of user needs. 

Personalisation is key to media company's success.
Personalisation is key to media company's success.

2. We need to start admitting when we are wrong

We make business bets based on data. But data changes and it doesn’t give us the full story.

If you have business as usual, that business will shrink, not grow. Changing our minds doesn’t mean losing face. It’s the right thing to do — test and learn, test and learn. Question why you are pursuing certain projects. Be brave enough to close some down, even if investments have been made.

Have you come across Killed by Google? Or the Museum of Failure? We may joke about some of the crazy products that came to fruition. But you know what — the majority of these companies are still in operation and profitable precisely because they know when to go big and when to go home.

If Bic had still had their pink pen “for girls,” they would have been annihilated in the Me Too movement. And Colgate producing food, I don’t even remember that one. They created MVPs and they tested. It’s all part of the product process. When do we do that in news? 

3. We need to know when to go big

Netflix was a DVD subscription business until the CEO bet big on streaming. Luckily it worked out for them. They went big. They were right to — and as first movers stayed dominant in the market for a long time.

If you believe in something, take the risk. The most successful businesses have made big bold bets that have fundamentally changed businesses (check out Tony Faddell’s book Build).

Who is going to have a moment of making that big bet? Is that what WaPo did with ARC? Or the NYT in buying Wirecutter, the Athletic, and Wordle? As Silicon Valley would say: This is ripe for disruption. Who is it going to be?

4. If we only think about our readers, we will not grow

There is a whole generation coming up that we know nothing about, let alone started thinking about how we serve them. To many publishers, Gen Z is a mystical group of people. They shouldn’t be.

We should know them. We should think about how we can interact with them and get them to appreciate — and maybe even pay — for our brands. (Read my latest blog where I dive into this with Snap’s ex-head of editorial, who knows this generation and its consumption habits plus has roots in the news industry).

Of course it’s not just Gen Z. We’re only currently serving a small percentage of the total addressable market. 

5. If we only think about our existing products, we will not grow

What if we have maxed out on the number of people reading the news? Thinking about the article above, we can be fairly sure that the audience for pure news is shrinking.

So what are the other products that bring people to our brands? Is it weather? Sports results? Local events? Horoscopes? Games? There’s a lot we can explore that helps us reach our business goals. I believe we need to bring more “information” back to our portfolios that supports the journalism. 

What am I missing here? If you have anecdotes, views, or disagree with any of the above, please reach out. I love hearing from you. You can reach me at jodie.hopperton@INMA.org.

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About Jodie Hopperton

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